Lake Pukaki was the first place that we stopped for the night on our campervan road trip in New Zealand. We actually had been thinking we’d stop in Wanaka or Queenstown for the night, but when Lake Pukaki showed up in the windshield we had to stop.
The color of Lake Pukaki is something that’s hard to believe until you see it. Whenever I see pictures of super blue water my immediate reaction is that the photo is heavily edited. But this is real. In fact, this photo may not even be as blue as it looks in person.
Aoraki aka Mount Cook is on the right side off in the distance, with its snowy peaks almost looking like clouds. The photo above is the view that you’d get as you drive up on Highway 8 headed toward Twizel from Christchurch.
After burning a few hours swimming in the ice cold glacier water (it sounds bad, but it’s great) on a warm summer day, we decided this place was paradise and that there was no way we weren’t going to stay for a night. It worked out really well that there are some campgrounds available right on the lake — and you don’t have to be self contained to park up.
As the sunset rolled in I pulled out my camera to try out a video. I didn’t have a tripod and I’m no video pro, but I think this video will give you a good idea of what you can experience staying a night at Lake Pukaki.
The view from this end of the lake is a stunning panorama of snowy mountain peaks and glacial lake.
One of the best parts about camping up here is the easy accessibility to Mount Cook. After you wake up in the morning you can hop on Mount Cook Road and be at Mount Cook in about 45 minutes — although you’ll likely take more like 60-90 minutes like us with photo stops.
There are multiple hikes leaving from the valley below Mount Cook. One of them takes you across a swing bridge to the upper lake which is Mount Cook’s direct glacial runoff. We didn’t have time to do that hike, but were able to see that trail from above on the hike we did do.
We ended up taking the 2000 Steps trail that went up to Mueller Hut. The view from the trail got better and better every step. This trail was not for the faint of heart or those with poor balance, there are very steep drop-offs and a never ending amount of stairs to tire you. With that said, it’s worth every bit of effort it takes to get there.
Someone we ran into said that during Spring the entire valley above floods with glacial runoff, forming the Tasman River. If you were to follow the valley/river around the bend to the right you’d come up on Lake Pukaki.
In this photo we were nearing the top. The small lake you see slightly above the center of the photo is where the other popular path goes to. You can actually see the tiny little trail next to the stream running to the right. The sun was bright, sky was clear and birds were chirping. I couldn’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be.
After spending a few hours at the top climbing around on cliffs and investigating plants we decided to head back down. This was much more pleasant than the way up, but still tiring. The stairs are so steep there that you really have to use your leg muscles to avoid going to fast and falling. I’d recommend being extremely careful on the way down and taking your time to avoid shocking your joints too much and causing damage to your knees. It’s all too easy to smack your feet down when your legs are that tired.
Nearing the bottom the sun started falling and we got some really great light to shoot pictures. Here’s one of my favorite from the way down:
Once you get to the bottom you can grab dinner in the village down the road where they make some really good country style food. For accommodation you have a few options all easily accessible. You can choose to:
- Stay in one of the incredible cabin hotels nearby ($$$$)
- Camp out in the parking lot (was expensive and pretty crowded)
- Head back down to the end of Lake Pukaki and stay another night (our choice)
Ultimately we went back down to the end of Lake Pukaki for another dreamy night on the edge of the lake. We made it back just in time for the sun to set another night. This time instead of pulling out the camera to shoot a video we just sat and watched the colors go by — unable to believe this was only our first stop…